Benefits of eating your greens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:05pm


Getting people to make healthier food choices could be as simple as repositioning and labelling food in office cafeterias and groceries.

A programme implemented in the cafeteria at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston boosted healthy food choices among more than 4,600 employees.

Hospital researchers reported their findings last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

They devised a two-phase plan that began with colour-coded labels on all food items in March 2010 - green signifying the healthiest items, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats; yellow indicating less healthy items; and red for those with little or no nutritional value.

The second phase, which began three months later, involved rearranging refrigerators and racks of food and drink to place green-label products at eye level, and red- or yellow-label products below.

The study was designed to measure changes in purchases by racial/ethnic categories and by job type during both phases of the programme. Data was recorded by cafeteria cash registers and matched to human resources information.

At the outset of the study, black and Latino employees and those in job categories associated with lower education purchased more red items and fewer green items than did white employees or those in higher-education job types. But at the end of both phases of the intervention, employees in all groups bought fewer red items and more green items.

A specific analysis of beverages - chosen because the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is highest among black and low-income people and strongly linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease - found more people in all groups bought healthier drinks.

All elements of the overall programme remain in place at the university and the colour-coded labelling has been extended to all food services.